Hot! Good news on child poverty greeted by same old pessimism

NationalPost.com – Full Comment
02/12/13.   Chris Selley

Behold a selection of print and online headlines and subheadlines from recent days: “Child poverty gets worse” (Ottawa Citizen); “Almost 25 years after MPs voted to end child poverty, there are even more poor kids in Canada” (Toronto Star); “Canada losing war on child poverty” (Regina Leader-Post). The New Democrats chimed in with their obligatory press release: “Under the Conservatives no progress has been made,” it claimed.

“Grossly misleading” is the kindest word for it. All of the above-linked stories are about Campaign 2000′s latest annual report card on child poverty. And it’s pretty hard to misinterpret. On page three, it states quite clearly: “The most recent statistics [from 2011] indicate that 967,000 children — one in seven children — still lives in poverty, down very slightly from 979,000 in 2010.” (My italics.)

Repeat: Down, not up. Better, not worse.

It is true, as the Citizen reported, that “more children and their families lived in poverty as of 2011 than they did in 1989, when the House of Commons unanimously resolved to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.” But according to the metric in question — the after-tax low-income measure (LIM), which measures adjusted household income against 50% of the median — 2011 saw the fewest Canadian children living in poverty since 1989: 967,000, or 14.3% (compared to 912,000, or 13.7% in 1989). It was the third straight year of decline, which hasn’t happened in 20 years.

Nor was it dropping back towards normal from a recent high blip. Child poverty as measured by the LIM peaked most recently in 2004, at 16.7%; since then it has declined every year save two, when it only rose a combined 0.4 percentage points.

Now, it wasn’t MPs’ stated intent in 1989 to increase child poverty and then reduce it again. They pledged “to seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.” Campaign 2000 wants to hold Parliament to that unlikely and failed goal, not drag us staggering back to 1989. There’s no reason for anyone to be turning cartwheels.

But according to Statistics Canada, between 2008 and 2011, the number of poor children in Canada declined by nearly 70,000. That doesn’t mean job done, should we wish to accept it as such: Not least among the native population, there is real, wrenching poverty in Canada, and it’s to our great collective discredit.

But an impression of futility is a terrible motivator, and Campaign 2000′s 2013 Report Card provides compelling evidence against futility. It is, in short, good news, should we choose to accept it as such. And why on earth wouldn’t we?

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